April 21, 2009

The Law and the Kingdom of God

Most Christians who've studied the Bible come to understand the cross as the pivotal moment of human history, the focal point marking a fundamental transformation in God's relationship to man. Indeed, Calvary represents a paradigm shift, to use contemporary words.
Before the cross, there were several notable events wherein God intervened in history, and made covenants with certain patriarchs (e.g. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses). The Sinai Covenant with its Ten Commandments has been analyzed at length by numerous commentators, including authoritatively, the author of the book of Hebrews. Besides that source, there are numerous other scriptures that corroborate the notion of a fundamental renovation of God's plan for humanity. This paper surveys the Biblical theme of Jesus' new covenant.

Jesus and the Law
Surrounding the ultimate 'crucial' event, the cross of Christ, several details concerning the Law stand prominent. In the major dissertation Jesus gave on the subject of behavior— in the Sermon on the Mount—he made it a point to pronounce the 'Golden Rule' as the summation of the Law (Matt 7:12). In his parables, especially of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the King's feast, and others, Jesus never mentioned anything about the commandments, but he emphasized love and grace. Paul, too, doesn't mention the Sinai commandments without explicitly indicating that those laws are subsumed in a greater Law of love (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14).

One of Jesus' apocalyptic sermons occurs in Matthew 25 (vs 31 to end) where he talks about the actions that identify the 'sheep and the goats' at the final judgment. Here is the ultimate proof of the new regime: in his repetitious description of the criteria for separating the righteous from the evil-doers, Jesus makes absolutely no reference to Laws of any kind! He simply zeroes in on the basic gestures of charity towards our fellow humans—those who love are saved, those who don't love are lost. Surely, if commandment-keeping were paramount, they would have been cited in a sermon on judgment! The fact that the spotlight is on love cannot be missed... or dismissed.

Then at the last supper, Jesus inaugurates two 'new' things, which, one can perceive, he has been building towards during his full 3 ½ year ministry. As stated in Luke 22:20, he offers "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood," thereby instituting the new relationship with humanity. This covenant is ratified by his blood, shed at Calvary, as the ultimate, perfect Lamb. Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels state that the blood of this covenant is poured out for (the) ‘many,’ thereby echoing Daniel’s prophecy of 9:27, indicating that this covenant is not exclusive to the people of Israel, but covers everyone.

John's gospel devotes a great portion entirely to Jesus' last day on earth, and records his words in ch 13, vs 34: "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another…" (reiterated in ch 15:17). Here, Jesus makes plain what he had been teaching by example and by word—that the heart of the new covenant is a new commandment; (and thereby, fulfilling Jer 31:34 and Ezek 36:26). The old covenant of Moses was based on obedience to rules; the new contract is characterized by love. You have to ask yourself a critical question: "If the Decalog was sufficient to define Christian conduct, why would Jesus have found it expedient to introduce a 'new commandment'?" The word ‘new’ does not mean ‘extra,’ as so many Christians have ingenuously assumed. Jesus did not issue an additional, eleventh commandment—this was a ‘new,’ replacement Law, to complement the ‘new’ covenant. Hebrews 8:13 states that in speaking of a ‘new covenant’ God rendered the previous one obsolete. By the same token, in speaking of a ‘new commandment’, Jesus similarly made the old ones obsolete.

While adherents of the Decalog assert that the continuance of the old law is 'implied' or 'taken for granted,' it is worthy of note that the only explicit law in the NT is the Law of Love enunciated by Jesus himself! All other references to the Ten C's include only partial mention, intended as illustrations of normative behavior. If the reader is able to read these texts with 'new eyes,' unprejudiced by a priori assumptions, it becomes apparent that the words are actually revealing a new order which fulfills the prophecies of Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36. After all, anyone can simply memorize the rules ‘by heart.’ That isn’t what the prophets were talking about. They meant having the principles inculcated in one’s thinking, so that a set of ‘rote rules’ was irrelevant.

A Biblical Exegesis
The author of the book of Hebrews puts the pieces together for us, juxtaposing and contrasting the two covenants (which he calls 'old' and 'new'). The writer makes it very plain that Jesus ushered in a totally new deal for mankind. He builds an airtight, forensic, scriptural case that, with his death, Christ achieved…
  • a new covenant, [7:22; 8:6-7, 13]
  • sealed with a better sacrifice, [9:14, 25, 28; 10:12, 14]
  • ministered by a superior High Priest, [7:11-12, 8:6]
  • delivered in a heavenly, not earthly, temple, [8:2; 9:11, 24]
  • and containing radically different terms [10:10, 14, 17, 19-22].
In doing so, this book echoes the predictions in the book of Daniel, ch 9:24.
"Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city…
  • to finish the transgression, -> [Jn 19:30]
  • to make an end of sin, -> [Rom 3; Heb 10:14; 2Cor 5:21]
  • to make atonement for iniquity, -> [Jn 1:29; Rom 5; Gal 3:13]
  • to bring in everlasting righteousness, -> [Heb 10]
  • to seal up vision and prophecy, and -> [Lk 24:44]
  • to anoint the most holy [place]." -> [Heb 9]
Both Daniel and Hebrews are talking about a revolution, a new world order, the completion of one paradigm and the inauguration of another.
Heb 7:18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness [19] (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. [NASB].
If believers can bring themselves to read the New Testament with fresh, objective eyes—spiritual eyes, free from presumption—they will be amazed at what they will see. Especially examining 2 Corinthians 3, and Galations 3, which complement Matthew 5, 6 and 25, and other pertinent accounts of Jesus' teachings. If we read what the text says, rather than what we think it says, the message is nothing short of astonishing!
Hebrews 5:13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. [14] But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
[NASB, emphasis supplied.]
This discernment of good and evil is precisely what the converted heart is called to exercise ("practice"), rather than falling back on looking to an externally-imposed criterion of righteousness. Hebrews, chapters 7, 8, and 9 elaborate on the replacement of the 'Old Deal' completely by the new covenant, in every detail. Then in chapter 10, the scholar continues his analysis using OT scripture (Ps 40).
[8] After saying above, "Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have not desired, nor have you taken pleasure in them'' (which are offered according to the Law), [9] then He said, " Behold, I have come to do your will.'' He takes away the first in order to establish the second. [Emphasis supplied].
Once one has seen the quintessential paradigm shift represented by the cross, it becomes baffling why anyone would insist on dragging the tables of stone through the 'gospel stargate' into the new dimension. By so doing, the Decalog lingers as a stark anomaly, an anachronism, even an affront to the work of Christ!

Hebrews 10:29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
[36] For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. [NASB, emphasis added].
Do we not disdain the awesome sacrifice of Christ and his blood-bought covenant of grace by insisting on clinging to the old covenant and its ten-point terms? And what does it mean to do the will of God (Heb 10:36)? Jesus himself answered that very question, in straightforward terms to his legalistic enquirers, in John's gospel, ch 6:
v. 28 Therefore they said to Him, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?'' [29] Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.''
The same chapter goes on to quote Jesus extensively on the subject of discipleship and salvation. Nowhere does he hint that the Law is involved; far from it, he emphasizes that it is he himself who is responsible for our salvation. E.g.:
40 "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.''
54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

Paul on Gospel Freedom
In Galatians, Paul writes extensively on the 'freedom' that the believer enjoys; freedom that he cautions is not to be abused. Surely, one cannot argue that OT Israelites enjoyed freedom under the tyranny of the whole 'Law of Moses' (commandments and ordinances). True, they misused the Mosaic covenant, becoming slaves to salvation by works. But Paul is talking about more than just freedom from this misapprehension; he actually says that Christians are called to exercise freedom in love, adding again, that love is the fulfillment of the Law (Gal 5:13, 14).
13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself.''
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Why would Paul have had to spell out for the new believers, as he does in ch 5, what behavior to avoid if they were still under the 'Old Ten'—when he could simply refer to that code? The point Paul makes is the same one that gave rise to the book "Servants or Friends?" which explores the concept of being born again as children and heirs of God, versus the old mindset of behaving like a servant (slave) who is kept ignorant of the master's ways. The Israelites in the desert begged Moses to mediate between them and God; they didn't want to deal directly with God as a friend (as Moses did). Moreover, they recited the mantra: "All that the Lord has said we will do," like little vassals, hardly seeming to understand the impossible task they were taking on!

Their naïve words are in stark contrast to the relationship Jesus desired in John 15:15, where he tells the disciples:
14 You are My friends if you do what I command you.
15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. […17] This I command you, that you love one another.
The slave mentality just wants to know the rules, not the knowledge behind the rules. Friends, on the other hand, have access to the knowledge, the law-Maker, and deal with the principles, the spirit, not the 'articles.' This is the crux of the matter: do we dare take Jesus at his word—that his sacrifice has opened the way for us to be legitimate heirs of God, and thus able to function in his freedom—or do we reject that radical offer and cling timidly to the core of the Old Covenant, the Ten Commandments, as our moral security blanket?

Righteousness by Faith - Another Look
Much has been said on the subject of righteousness by faith—right standing with God on the basis of our faith in the complete efficacy of Jesus. Yet there is another aspect seldom broached. Paul examines the topic in Galatians 3…(See 5:3, also).
11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "the righteous man shall live by faith.''
He proceeds to make a startling observation:
12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "he who practices them shall live by them.'' [13] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us, for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree''.
What Paul is saying here is that the Law is at odds with faith; if you're going to put yourself under one, you can't also be under the other! Either live in total obedience to the Law, or else live by faith in Christ… Christ who took on the whole terrible curse of law-keeping (and law-breaking) so that we might be freed from that burden.

Anticipating the obvious objection, Paul then states:
19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made [Jesus].
He explains that the Law was 'added' or introduced as a supplement, an adjunct to God's original plan, and that it was a temporary measure intended to be in effect until Jesus came with a new arrangement. He characterizes the Law as a kind of 'school-master' that was in charge only until the way of faith was revealed.
23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. [24] Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
He immediately adds the remark that we are no longer under that system.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
By becoming adopted into the family of God, we are no longer treated as servants or pupils who must simply obey the rules, but as heirs who are learning the family business—the capacity to live in love. Paul expands on this idea in ch. 5, where he cautions fellow 'family members' not to abuse their new freedom, but to live a life of loving service and to abide by the golden rule.
5:13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.''
It seems apparent to me that Paul is not just writing to the Galatians about freedom from the notion of salvation by works, i.e. keeping the Law as a means to be saved. He is talking about being under a new system—one where salvation is found in believing in Jesus Christ, period, without reference to the Law either as a means of salvation OR as a means of measuring behavior. Is there other scriptural evidence behind this idea?

In fact, right in Romans, Paul corroborates this view, but it's so radical a notion that most readers can't take Paul at his word, preferring instead to adduce their own meanings. For example… (notice, especially, 10:4 and 5)
7:6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
9:16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
10:3 For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
[4] For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
[5] For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.
[9] …that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
People will say that 7:6 means we have only been released from the Law as means of salvation, ignoring the added contrast between old and new systems of service. Then, in 10:4, the neo-legalists say that the word 'end' should be replaced with its alternate meaning of 'goal,' despite the problem posed by the context. What Paul is doing is contrasting the life of someone living under the Law, versus one who lives by faith in Christ. Again, it's a new way of living, of thinking, of acting. Since Christ has done all the 'doing' as our representative, we no longer have to live with reference to an impossible check-list. If our righteousness is truly and purely based on faith, with all that that implies (and which Paul describes, starting in ch 8) then what's the use of referring to some other, outer measure of righteousness?

In ch 12, Paul echoes Jeremiah's prophecy (Jer 31:31) with reference to allowing the Spirit to transform our minds so that we will know God's will—what is acceptable (and by extension, what is not). He enumerates a few of the 'old commandments' merely as illustrations of what he is talking about. That's why in ch 13, he twice states that to love is to accomplish the Law's dictates, and that "if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying." (Surely Paul knew if there were other commandments!)
Rom 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Rom 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law… [10] Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
The Hebraic Analysis
The book of Hebrews treats extensively the subject of covenants and the role of Christ. The writer considers the Sinai covenant and indicates that that system required a continual cycle of sacrifices designed to remind the Israelites of their sins and to attempt to make atonement for them (through ritual sacrifices).
Heb 10:1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.
2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?
3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.
4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
He goes on to contrast the work of the earthly priests to that of the supreme Priest, Jesus Christ. Their work is doomed to repetition, while Christ's is definitive. Jesus' one, perfect sacrifice accomplished in one stroke what all the offerings of antiquity failed to do.
11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; [12] but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, […]
14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. […18] Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.
It's easy to miss the full significance of verse 14. It states baldly that we (believers) have already been sanctified—for all time, yet!—by his one, ultimate offering! Why then do we fret about whether we've broken this or that commandment? IT'S A MOOT POINT for the born-again child of God! This is a detail that David, a confessed law-breaker, understood a thousand years before Christ came, as he celebrates in the Psalms (see Ps 32). David lived under the 'new covenant!'

If we who believe in Christ continue to also believe that we are under obligation to the Law—even as a standard of behavior—are we not scorning the perfect achievement of our Lord and Savior, Jesus?
28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. [29] How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
Verse 22 (Heb 10) exhorts us to exercise our faith since our hearts have been cleansed of an evil conscience—which is an effect the Law had imposed on us.
21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, [22] let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
The author encourages the believers to redirect their focus from the old way of thinking what to avoid, to the new positive way of thinking.
24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, […]
36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
So, there it is: the New Testament turns the old system on its head. Christ accomplished a 'once and for all' revolution in the spiritual dimension. The believer is no longer under the Law of behaviorism—neither for salvation, nor as a standard of behavior, nor as evidence of salvation—but solely under faith in the one who alone was able to keep perfectly (i.e. to fulfill) the Law in their stead!

Jesus Lived the New Covenant!
Defenders of the Old Covenant quote, in support of their views, the words of Jesus that "… I did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it," claiming that this proves their point. On the contrary, they are overlooking the significance of that key word, "fulfill." Just look at these texts in juxtaposition to see what Jesus really meant.
Romans 13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Galatians 5:14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.''
[And again in 6:2] Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. [NASB]
At the last supper, Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant, which he ratified or consummated with his death on the cross. Most Christians are agreed on that. During his brief ministry on earth, Jesus was introducing the concepts that characterize this new covenant. These concepts were so radical for the unanointed minds of his day-- (and also of today)—that he was in constant conflict with the religious authorities. Since he knew that these new ideas would inflame the system against him (before he could complete his mission) he elucidated many of them in the guise of parables and illustrations. Using the enlightened hindsight of the Spirit, the apostles were later able to perceive the true impact of these figures of speech and work them into their teaching.

In Jesus' words preserved as a pattern for us in 'the Lord's Prayer,' he doesn't ask God for strength to keep the Commandments; he instead asks God for forgiveness—in proportion to our willingness to forgive those who wrong us. Again, it's a whole new way of spiritual thinking, and of defining holiness. Most of us recite the words with little grasp of the significance.

In Mark's gospel, Jesus employs two common analogies to hint at the value system of the Kingdom of God.
Mark 2: 21 No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results.
22 No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.''
These are rather enigmatic metaphors, but one thing the reader can conclude is that it is unwise to mix old and new components of a specific system—they are simply not compatible. The new fabric of Jesus' teachings cannot merely be patched on to the old garment of the traditional Jewish beliefs. Similarly, the new wine of the covenant he presented in the cup of his blood, was to be placed in a new container, a new spiritual framework, not in the old one. It's very fascinating that the text continues in a way that confirms this view.
23 And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. [24] The Pharisees were saying to Him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?'' [25] And He said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; [26] "how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?''
27 Jesus said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. [28] So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.''
Right there, in the real-life incident, Jesus was illustrating what he meant by the earlier analogies. Here he deliberately 'broke' the Sabbath commandment (in the eyes of the Pharisees) to demonstrate that the concepts of man are not the criteria of God. There is a higher principle involved than the limiting reference to the commandments.

In the encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus again illustrates that he represents a new paradigm, one that supersedes tradition.
John 4:5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; [6] and Jacob's well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well… [7] There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, Give Me a drink.'' [9] Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?'' (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.'' [11] She said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?
12 "You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?''
13 Jesus answered and said to her, Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.'' […]
19 The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. [20] Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.''
21 Jesus said to her, Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. [22] You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.
24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.''
The key verses here are v.12-14 and v.23-24. Jacob represents the Old Covenant, providing a limited 'well' of spiritual blessing, requiring work on the part of the recipient to retrieve water. Jesus is the source of living water, that a believer carries within, to bless others in love. Jesus makes it clear that he is superior to the old way, and moreover, that 'true worshippers' will worship God "in spirit and truth." This manner of worship (not of salvation, note) has nothing whatever to do with burnt offerings and observance of commands and ordinances (as David also celebrated in the Psalms, a millennium before Christ!).

Again, in the 6th chapter, John's gospel recounts another memorable metaphor Jesus used to get the point across that his regime is radically different from the traditional one. Here, Jesus likens himself to life-giving bread that he compares to the manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness. Clearly, references to Moses and manna harken the listener back to the Old Covenant, while Jesus reveals himself as the true source of spiritual nourishment. The Law, whether as a method of righteousness or a standard of performance, brings death. Christ alone gives life!
John 6:32 Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. [33] For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.'' [35] Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. […]
47 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. [48] I am the bread of life. [49] Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
[50] This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. [51] I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.''
58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.''
Those who cannot recognize that Christ operated under a new paradigm in his earthly ministry are in peril of failing to acknowledge the completeness of the work he accomplished with his life, death and resurrection. Yes, he freed humanity from the burden of 'salvation by works;' but more than that, he freed us from the subtle, pernicious worry of measuring our performance by a codified, external set of laws. And of the associated temptation to rate ourselves and others as to spirituality. When one finally sees how much God loves us, how easy he made salvation through his Son, then one is enabled to extend that love to all others, without judging them by external standards of appearance or behavior.

Closing Thoughts
It must be recognized that the Israelites were a 'new nation' (estimated at over one million souls) which arose during 430 years of captivity in Egypt. Suddenly, they found themselves out in the wilderness with no indigenous tradition of law and order. In response to this need, God gave the entire Mosaic code to them as a formula for national success. Instead, the people decided that observing this code would be 'righteousness' for them in a spiritual sense, as well (Deut 6:25). That interpretation of theirs was the start of their problems as a distinct group—problems that persist to this day among Jews.

In the new covenant, God took an entirely different approach. The emphasis now is on Christ and his accomplishments, not on humans and their efforts at all. The new deal removes the Decalog from the picture, pointing instead to Jesus and the positive call to love one another. Since everyone admits the old law couldn't save anyone, and couldn't be fully observed in any case, then one has to wonder: "Why keep it?" Especially when God has provided something far superior!

So enthralling is the spirit of legalism, that even for those who acknowledge salvation by grace, it is difficult to stay focused on Christ as long as the Ten Commandments lurk menacingly in the background. Only by removing them as a foreboding taskmaster does the believer experience the full freedom promised by Christ and his gospel; the freedom to act in love. Only the one who has received grace and forgiveness can extend the same to others. The tables of stone had their place and time, but are long obsolete, superseded by a new regime that is superior in all respects. Believers in Christ can rest assured that the tables of stone were ground into dust by the Rock of Ages!


Appendix: The New Covenant in the Old Testament - The Heart of the matter

Jeremiah stated clearly in 31:31 that the new covenant of the future would not be like the one he [God] made with them at Sinai. This was already foreshadowed back in Jeremiah 3:16-- "It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land,'' declares the LORD, "they will no longer say, 'The ark of the covenant of the LORD.' And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again." Finally, one can also add Ezekiel 36:26 to the argument, when he says "… I will remove the heart of stone… and give you a heart of flesh." The 'stone' surely echoes the tables of stone, and is deliberately contrasted with the soft, gracious heart of born-again flesh. (The heart is traditionally regarded as the seat of love.) When you juxtapose all these verses, the message is clear that an internalized, heart-stored law will supersede the old, external law.

Defenders of the Ten Commandments (being literally binding) will acknowledge Jeremiah's prophecy (Jer 31;31-34) that the Law would be written in our hearts. But, incredibly, they argue that it's the Decalog that's written in the human heart. First, the whole point of transposing the external, literal Law internally upon 'the heart' is a Hebrew poetic way of indicating what Paul was trying to say when he referred to the letter of the Law versus the spirit of the Law, in Romans 7:6. That is, an externalized law is lifeless, and moreover cannot inspire the human spirit towards what is right. Only an internalized law—i.e. one whose underlying principles are understood—can effect any change, not in behavior, but in motivation. Second, the reference to the 'heart' is significant. After all, anyone can memorize ten rules—store them in his mind. But to harbor the law in one's heart signifies a grasp of, or a willingness to grasp, the 'heart' of the Law, which is its elementary intent.

Therefore, to argue that a literal Law is transposed on the heart of the believer is to take a naïve, immature view that misses the essence of the mystery of the rebirth experience! Jeremiah says as much when he states that "They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, declares the LORD," (Jer 31:34). What this implies is that it's not a question of memorizing ten rules (or however many one wants to add) but of understanding the intent of the Law and its creator so as to be able to apply the principles in daily intercourse.

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